We are often consulted by people who may have divorced many years earlier in the belief that the divorce itself meant there was a financial clean break. It can often come as a surprise to them that their former spouse, whom they may have been separated and divorced from for many years, could still bring a financial claim.
This issue was brought into the public eye following a high profile case of Wyatt -v- Vince in 2011 when Ms Wyatt made an application for financial provision in the form of a lump sum and a payment towards her legal costs, 27 years after their separation and 19 years after their divorce was concluded. It also prompted debate as to whether it was right that financial claims after divorce should be allowed, and if so whether there should be a “cut off” period for such claims. Following a case in 2007, it was suggested that any delay in bringing a financial claim for more than six years (the statutory limitation period for other claims) would require very good reason. In this case, the Supreme Court did not share that view.
A bit of background
To give some background, Mr Vince and Ms Wyatt, were married in 1981. They lived as new age travellers and had no assets or income during their marriage. They had one child, born during the marriage, and Ms Wyatt’s daughter from a previous relationship was treated as a child of the family. The marriage was short lived, and they separated in 1984 after just three years. They obtained a Decree Absolute which finalised the divorce in 1992.
Following the divorce Mr Vince moved into a caravan and then designed and built a wind turbine from recycled materials to generate electricity for his caravan. His turbine became the foundation of his successful business, Ecotricity which was previously estimated to be worth in excess of 50 million.
In 2011 Ms Wyatt brought a financial claim against her former husband. Mr Vince argued that they had reached a financial agreement upon divorce but there was no evidence of this on the Court file (which had in fact been mislaid) and neither party held any documents relating to the divorce other than the Decree Absolute.
Unsurprisingly, Mr Vince issued an application to strike out the claim which was refused. He then made a further application to the Court of Appeal who granted his appeal and struck out Ms Wyatt’s financial claim. Ms Wyatt then appealed to the Supreme Court in 2015 and her claim was re-instated after the Court concluded there was a legal basis for the claim.
The reasons in support of the financial claim after such a lengthy period included the wife’s care of their son during his minority and the absence of any significant financial or other contribution from Mr Vince to the care of the children of the family. The Court had regard to the welfare of the family including contributions caring for the family or looking after the home, which were not limited to those made during the marriage.
The Court was tasked with considering two magnetic factors, the wife’s delay and a lack of contributions by Mr Vince to the care of the children. A financial settlement was reached, albeit on a more limited basis than Ms Wyatt was pursuing.
The lessons - if you both want a "clean break" take some advice
The lesson from this case was, whether people viewed this case as grossly unjust or not, that those who wish to be financially independent in the future should take the appropriate advice and ensure they do not leave themselves to the risk of a future claim. They should also ensure they retain all relevant documents relating not only to the divorce but any financial settlement should a dispute arise in the future.
The Langleys family law team are adept at this type of issue. You can contact us here. Our first contact with us is time unlimited, most of the time this first contact will be just what you need to sort out your situation.